Coaching on Behalf of Fulfillment, Meaning, Generativity in Life
Several decades ago, Robert Bellah and his colleagues (Bellah et al, 1985), wrote about American society in their insight-filled book, Habits of the Heart. One of their many poignant observations concerned the substitution of psychotherapy for the religious confessional. We unburden our souls by seeking out a shrink rather than a priest. But this might be changing. Today, Americans (and those from other of the more prosperous and less traditional societies) might be turning to personal coaches for their own existential soul-searching. As we will note later, this type of coaching might often be linked directly to issues regarding spirituality and one’s search for faith in a highly secular society.
We find that there is another way in which personal coaching has become something of a confessional. That occurs when fundamental issues regarding life fulfillment and the search for meaning takes center stage in the coaching engagement. This coaching approach is often associated with those coaches who have an ontological or existential orientation. The work of Julio Olallo (Olalla and Bergquist,2008) comes to the fore, as does the narrative coaching offered and described by David Drake (Drake, Brennan and Gortz, 2008).
One of us has recently engaged in work focusing on the process of deep caring in the lives of our clients and leaders we have interviewed (Bergquist and Quehl, 2016 ). Erik Erikson (1986) associates this yearning for deep and abiding care as the foundation of generativity—the seventh stage in his model of life development. We have expanded Erikson’s analysis to suggest that deep caring and generative acts occur at all points in our life. The first act of generativity occurs as we give birth to and provide care to one or more children, or as we give “birth” to a new project which we nurture and care for deeply (often for many years). The second act of generativity typically occurs when we expand our zone of caring to an organization of which we are a member (and often a leader). We provide mentoring and other modes of support for the next generation in the organization.
The third role of generativity occurs when we expand out not just in terms of space (from family to organization) but also in terms of time. We become the guardians of traditions and caretakers of the natural environment or of historical sites. We bring the values and accomplishments of the past into the present and extend them into the future. Finally, there is a fourth role of generativity which extends both space and time. It concerns civic engagement. We care deeply about our community, our society – even our world. We become stewards, advocates, activists, change-agents on a very broad stage.
We anticipate that each of these acts of generativity will be even more effective and of even greater importance to the deep-care giver, when associated with personal and life coaching. We are suggesting an interweaving of essentially “existential” reflection with the practical, action-oriented strategies of deep care-giving. This will probably mean that personal and life coaching becomes even more intricate and valued in the world of professional coaching. Narratives of generativity will be carefully recorded and studied by client and coach, with a sustained focus being placed on finding the patterns of meaning, aspiration and value that reside in these narratives and in the acts of deep-caring.Download Article 1K Club